Restaurant Sabor Peru, located at 373 Bloomfield Avenue in Caldwell, New Jersey, represents three generations of Peruvian cuisine. Owner and Chef Diana Rodriguez took over the business from her two uncles. While she keeps many of the traditional recipes alive, she also brings in many new influences. The restaurant interior is colorful and lively — a testament to Diana’s art and design background. Read on for all of the details on Sabor Peru.
The first Peruvian restaurant in Diana’s family opened in Passaic in 1969. It was a tiny hole in the wall with only a couple of tables. The original owner, Mike Shimabukuro, was a Japanese man who immigrated to Peru before landing in the U.S. The menu featured an assortment of seafood, in addition to the traditional meat dishes of Peru, and a Japanese influence. The family then opened its second location in Rutherford, which was the first one by the name of Sabor Peru. Mike Shimabukuro first owned the restaurant before passing it on to Diana’s two uncles — who owned and managed this location, with Mike remaining as chef. The Rutherford restaurant was open for nearly 15 years before the family found the space in Caldwell, which passed to Diana as the third-generation owner.
Diana grew up in the first restaurant and learned the ins and outs of cooking Peruvian food. While owning a restaurant was not a part of her plan — initially wanting to pursue art and design — something called her to it. Diana wanted to continue with the traditions, food, and love that her family started to bring to New Jersey. She told The Montclair Girl, “I’m the first one to keep this going, not because I had to, but because of the love passed down from all of the restaurants.” Now, she melds her love of cooking and art into Sabor Peru.
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As the third generation to be involved in the restaurant, Diana wanted the menu at Sabor Peru to feel fresh. As she told MG, “There are a bunch of restaurants you can go to that are Peruvian where you can get the traditional dishes. But I also like to put new things on the menu to make it more appealing for a younger crowd. Plus, it tastes good!”
Diana has a team of chefs behind her. One has even been with the family since the original restaurant in Passaic. She still leans on the classics — like the Tacu Tacu, which she makes the same way as her uncles made it — but will often add her own twists. The ceviche, for example, is a family staple that she will play around with, most recently adding lobster and mango. Diana also does different versions of the Anticuchos (Peruvian kebabs), which she said pairs well with their Arroz Chaufa or wok-fried rice.
Diana’s menu is ever-changing, constantly featuring new recipes and flavor combinations. Some items are so experimental that she keeps them off-menu. The restaurant’s regulars refer to these dishes as the hidden menu. One such item is a Tostones slider, made with beef or hanger steak and topped with a homemade ‘Big Mac’ sauce, featuring the Peruvian pepper as its star. Sometimes these items make guest appearances on the main menu.
Diners can always expect something new on the menu, made with the freshest ingredients. Diana gets many ingredients from local farms and will use what is in season. In addition to the food, this seasonal approach also shows up in her Chicha Morada, a Peruvian fruit punch that changes flavors based on different fruit varieties.
The menu also features a number of vegan and gluten-free items, which is uncommon for a Spanish restaurant but yet another way Diana is catering to the next generation of diners.
Diana sees the interior of Sabor Peru as her canvas, and puts a lot of effort into the art and decor that goes into the restaurant. Chill electronic beats play in the background, adding to the vibrant atmosphere. The restaurant is BYOB and offers five flavors of sangria mix. Sabor Peru is available for events, private parties (where a separate brunch menu is available upon request), and catering.
Sabor Peru is open Wednesday and Thursday from 11AM to 9PM; Friday and Saturday from 11AM to 10PM; and Sunday from 12PM to 8PM.